Candle Star Press
(Candle Star Press is the personal imprint of author Michelle Isenhoff.)
Michelle Isenhoff writes for tweens and teens. Sometimes her stories take place in the past; other times they involve fantastical plots or new worlds. More recently, Michelle had a blast writing the first book in a humorous, high-action series. She’ll never include profanity or objectionable content in works meant for children.
When Michelle’s not writing imaginary adventures, she’s probably off on one. She loves roller coasters and swimming in big waves. She’s an avid runner. She likes big dogs, high school football games, old graveyards, and wearing flip-flops all winter. Her dream vacation would include lots of castle ruins, but so far she’s had to settle for pictures on Pinterest. Once an elementary teacher, Michelle now homeschools two of her three kids and looks forward to summer break as much as they do.
In a genre dominated by traditional publishers, Michelle has received the following accolades:
Nominated for a 2013 Cybils Award (Song of the Mountain)
Semi-finalist in the Kindle Book Review 2013 Book Awards (Song of the Mountain)
Considered for the 2012 Great Michigan Read (Divided Decade Trilogy)
Nominated for the 2012 Maine Student Book Award (The Color of Freedom)
Candle Star logo whiteMichelle’s books have been lauded by teachers and homeschoolers alike. Educators are invited to request free digital copies. Michelle is also pleased to provide complimentary copies to book reviewers.
Michelle publishes her religious titles under the pen name Shell Isenhoff.
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- Ratburger Salad (TeenReads)
on April 06, 2011
Ratburger Salad, by David Elvar, is not the kind of book I prefer. I like a powerful, dynamic main character, depth of emotion, metaphor, a setting so intrinsic you can feel it. Ratburger Salad has none of these things. But personal preference aside, let me tell you what this book is.
Alex Bristow and his three best mates do NOT want merits in cookery class. It would ruin their whole image. So, with the help of a most unlikely comrade and a GIRL (heaven forbid!) they come up with the most cockamamie plan to thwart their teacher. I’ll let you find out for yourself if they succeed, but be prepared for chuckles the whole way.
First, being American, I enjoyed the European flavor of words like “telly,” “merits,” “mum,” and “skive.” Words I don’t run across often outside of Harry Potter and old James Herriot tales. My favorite cultural discrepancy, however, was when the boys compliment a young lady (insincerely, of course)by saying she looks like a million pounds. (Think money, Yanks.) And this made her happy! Across the pond, you tell a girl she looks a million pounds and she’ll clock you right back into Europe!
I have no argument with Mr. Elvar’s writing abilities. While his plot isn’t exactly jammed full of fast-paced action, he drives it along with masterful dialogue. And with colorful word choices like “bunging,” “sidling,” and – love this one – “ghastly.” His writing never dallies, never grows stagnant. Also, he treats us to a bit of tasty foreshadowing.
We get the whole gamut of low class meets high class, girls versus boys, brothers versus sisters, students against teachers, and children in conflict with parents. He does a nice job of working out differences between the local fellows and the boy from the next school over and imparts a few moral lessons along the way. And with poignant irony, our four heroes dodge cookery class by implementing a plan that requires sewing!
What really makes this story a winner, however, is Mr. Elvar’s ever-present wit. He makes very effective use of repetition to drive home his humor. Consider the following example: “One thing they had discovered long ago was the staff intelligence network. Another thing they had discovered long ago was a healthy respect for it.” The book is also smash full of droll one-liners like, “It’s a lousy job having a sister, but somebody’s got to do it.” And kids, in particular, will appreciate the creative nicknames the boys come up with for their less-than-appreciated teachers.
Overall, even though it’s not my style, I’d have to say kudos, Mr. Elvar!
- Tales from Moseley Bog: The Voles of Old
on April 19, 2011
Vivienne Wilkes has written a delightful children’s story in Tales from Moseley Bog: The Voles of Old, which I would highly recommend. With the same enchantingly English feel as Wind in the Willows and Peter Rabbit, this story tells the adventures of a colony of field voles who look to the return of their distant relatives, the water voles, to bring health and prosperity back to their home in Moseley Bog.
Ms. Wilkes has painted a beautiful world which she consistently describes through the eyes of her tiny characters and enriches with a wealth of quaint, story-appropriate word pictures. For instance, in describing old Melick’s den, she writes “...roots stretched down through the earth, criss-crossing his chamber like long, thin claws.” And she illustrates a roadway of cars as “a river of gigantic boulders, hurtling along one after another.” And by the riverbank, Rye says, “This place feels very heavy, as though many moon-passings have squashed layers of life together. Like huge boulders pressing into the ground. Into my mind!” It is this setting - with its exquisite details and quaint place names like Old World and Deep Way - and Ms. Wilkes poetic prose that spin the pages of this story into magic.
Rye and Melick are just two of the interesting characters that inhabit Moseley Bog. Each member of the vole colony has been endowed with a special skill that, when used collectively, helps ensure the survival of all. Old Melick is the Past Master, the keeper of memories, and young Rye is a Rememberer in training. Foxtail, from whose perspective the story is told, is a Way Finder – a wanderer who seeks safe paths for the others.
When Foxtail catches a glimpse of an unusual animal, he runs to tell wise Melick and learns of the Voles of Old – water voles who moved away long ago when the streams and ponds became unclean. “Water voles live in the memories of field voles as symbols of healthy rivers and streams, and were thought to be lucky.” Melick confides to Foxtail that it is his wish to see one of these distant cousins before he Fades Away. Rye and Foxtail combine their talents and set out to make Melick’s wish come true. In their travels they encounter adventure after adventure, including cats, rabbits, dogs, an angry shrew, and a horrible run-in with the “bane” of Moseley Bog. And they meet a certain water vole who, at the end, returns to his own land bringing with him “stories of the courage, wisdom and spirit of meadow voles.”
At one point, Foxtail comments, “I wished I hadn’t asked about flaws. I think I was full of them.” Moseley Bog, too, includes a few. I found many typos scattered throughout the text (mostly incorrect quotation marks), some punctuation errors, way too many exclamation points, a POV slip or two, and several instances of redundancy when a thought is overwritten or a word repeated in close context. But I’ll admit I’m being very technical. And these minor blips do nothing to detract from the charm of the story.
In conclusion, I think the last verse of one of Rye’s memories conveys very well the sweet essence of Moseley Bog:
Keep faith with the myths and the legends.
Forget not the truths that must last.
Give life to the lays, that tell of our days,
As the moons of our lives hurry past.
Ms. Wilkes’ story is well worth a read.
- Tales from Moseley Bog: The Voles of Old
on April 25, 2011
Just an extra note to add to my earlier review: early errors have been fixed. Moseley Bog's copy is clean! Download and enjoy!
on June 07, 2011
Seranfyll, a brand new novel by Christina Delay, will take readers to a wonderful place where horses fly and houses sneeze, where mops and pails bark like dogs and clean of their own accord, where trees walk and butlers are created – willy-nilly – out of chickens. It’s a delightful place. A place of animation and imagination. A place I thoroughly enjoyed visiting.
Ms. Daley’s story is lengthy, but I never felt I was jogging in place. It flows well and contains a nice mix of action, intrigue, fantasy, dialogue and interaction between characters. In fact, this play between three well-defined characters is one of the book’s greatest strengths. Rain, a slave with a sweet, affectionate spirit; Coal, another slave whose distrustful, rude and impatient; and Domrey, the drunken, eccentric, wonderful lord.
The book is also chuck full of wit and sharp one-liners, especially from Domrey, whom I particularly enjoyed. His unpredictability kept me laughing. Knitting on the roof, dancing on the table, leaving a chicken in charge of the manor. But Seranfyll is not without its serious moments with its powerful message against slavery. At times, it feels almost Biblical, such as when Domrey invites the destitute to his banquet, or when he takes Coal’s whipping on himself. Seranfyll celebrates honor, goodness, loyalty, patriotism, friendship and love.
I must say the book is in need of a light edit to fix typos, slash some adverbs and adjectives, and eliminate “wordiness” in some sentences. But don’t let these small issues sway you in your choice. Seranfyll is magical, highly imaginative and fun. I recommend it for children age 10+ and adults who enjoy fantasy with a fairy tale flavor.
on June 14, 2011
Gravity, by Abigail Boyd
I don’t usually gravitate toward the paranormal. I hold some strong religious views and am of the opinion that the occult can be dangerous. But I’m undertaking a judgment of Ms. Boyd's craft, not her subject matter. And my conclusion? Abigail Boyd is a gifted writer!
In Gravity, Ms. Boyd has created three wonderful characters. Ariel is a fifteen-year-old girl whose best friend has vanished without a trace. She lacks confidence, struggles with “what ifs,” and she’s totally confused by her sensitivity toward the paranormal, not to mention her difficulty dealing with overprotective parents. Ariel’s new friend, Theo (feminine), holds to her own unique but personable style, and Henry, well, who knows what Henry is? Despite her hopes, Ariel certainly can’t figure it out! The shifting relationships between this cast of well-rounded and oh-so-normal characters provides the foundation for a page-turning plot.
Ms. Boyd’s narration is nearly flawless. She scripts sentences that are easy to maneuver, with smooth transitions and unlabored prose. It’s just edgy enough to appeal to kids, but not so slangy as to appear dated in a few years. For instance, “McPherson (the principal) had always thrown me a vibe that screamed wrong.” I talk like that. I love it. And here are a few of her absolutely fabulous details and word pictures:
“My math teacher, Mr. Vanderlip was a twitchy little man with a paisley tie.”
“Her cloying cloud of fruit punch scented perfume hit me in the face like a chemical warfare attack.”
“It was comforting talking to someone I actually could talk to. I no longer felt like a target, dodging around waiting to get hit.”
Great stuff, ain’t it? And now let’s talk about suspense. When weird stuff starts happening, the knocks on the wall, the slamming lockers, the visions and dreams, you have to keep pushing on, because you have to learn what’s happening. And exactly what is Principal McPherson up to (the scumbag!)?
The book isn’t quite perfect. Ariel’s first day of school, in the early chapters, explains much, but I was starting to feel a little restless from its length. There’s also some scattered profanity. Not much, but I always question its necessity in a book classified for children. And apart from my own personal discomfort with a séance scene, I think séances are overdone. Every book, every movie, every television series, it seems, includes one. I also found lots of typos (which I’ve sent on to the author and trust will shortly be fixed) and a few logistical problems, where narration contradicts itself. Again, easy fixes.
Now back to the stuff I appreciated. Ms. Boyd has a great feel for a book’s movement. Her relationships work in slowly, naturally. Scenes build on each other. She plants fabulous clues are easily glossed over until suddenly those detail take on significance. The whole book is skillfully wrought.
The ending, however, I hated. Not because it sucks, but because the suspense is so well done that I now have to wait for her next installment. Because I must keep reading. I must learn what happens!
on Jan. 02, 2012
I always tread cautiously when my blog (Bookworm Blather) attracts requests for book reviews. I see a wide range of talent and professionalism, but Cycles, by Lois D. Brown, I am pleased to say, rates among the best stories I’ve received.
Within, an accident leaves13-year-old Renee Beaumont’s life completely shaken. Not only does she narrowly escape death, but doctors in the hospital identify abnormalities in her blood. Abnormalities that lead to questions concerning her parentage. Abnormalities that may be linked to an increasing number of dizzy spells and memories that cannot possibly be her own. Abnormalities that prompt the sudden interest of individuals who do not have Renee’s best interest at heart. Abnormalities that push Renee, along with her best friend Sam, on a wild ride of discovery that lands them smack in the center of a most peculiar blending of science and legend.
I have lots of good things to say about the story’s mechanics. Intrigue begins right away. The opening chapters create a host of questions that are skillfully unraveled throughout the remainder of the story. A deadly horse epidemic, Renee’s habit of drawing spirals, Sam’s father’s death, solar eclipses - all these details come back around to tuck nicely into the story later on. The plot is original, engaging and creative. There is a measure of predictability, but I think the kids for whom the book is intended (12-16) will enjoy figuring out the clues artfully planted along the way. And in all fairness, there were elements I didn’t foresee.
As to Ms. Brown’s writing, it’s very nice. There are moments it doesn’t read as smoothly as a title with a whole publishing team behind it, but I was very pleased with the overall effect. She creates some wonderfully descriptive word pictures, often in tandem with bright humor. For example, “Dawson cleared his throat again. He was either allergic to the hospital’s disinfectant spray, or he was nervous.” The title, too, is wonderfully metaphorical and clever.
The characters, as is often the case with contemporary teen fiction, feel a bit cliche. Rich girl with parents that ignore her. Geeky guy with a crush on a cheerleader. But they are given quirks that make them feel realistic and warmth that wins a reader over. Gamma Didi, on the other hand, is hugely original. An old Indian woman with gentle wisdom, odd habits, tribal memories, and modern intelligence, she’s the perfect counterpoint to the teens. Indeed, she’s the character that jumped off the page and became my favorite.
I would rate this book easily appropriate for kids 10 and older. Romance is kept sweet and innocent, language is perfectly clean. There is some violence at the end, but it isn’t graphic or overwhelming. There is an element of spiritualism – souls of the departed watching out for the living and the mention of a seance – but it’s very background, and a bit of mysticism is necessary for the story’s magical elements. Ms. Brown nicely blends legend with science.
I enjoyed Cycles a great deal, and I’m happily putting out my recommendation. Besides, with a 2.99 price tag, you can’t afford to pass it up!
- Uncertainty (Gravity series, 2)
on March 28, 2012
Fellow author Abigail Boyd and I have agreed to beta read each other’s books. The paranormal content in Uncertainty, book two in the Gravity series, has grown increasingly occultic. Extreme behavior (I won’t give away details for the sake of suspense) is reserved for the criminal element within the story and gives the book a strong sense of danger; nevertheless, some scenes went beyond my comfort zone.
Yet I can’t help but be impressed with Abigail’s writing style. Despite my qualms, the story is extremely absorbing. She especially has a knack for imagery—she always chooses just the right words and often makes me laugh with the description—and for effortless dialogue. In short, this is prose Every Joe will pick up and relate to. And she makes it look easy. Case in point:
“Her voice was several octaves higher than usual, her green eyes ballooning like a cartoon mouse begging a cat not to kill it.”
Then there was the lady with so much plastic surgery “they could have bounced a quarter off her face.”
And my favorite, the “huge assault strollers in the mall.” See what I mean? Abbey’s writing sparkles with humor and personality.
Now for the plot. Ariel, who uncovered the murder of her best friend, Jenna, in book one, is now being visited by her friend’s ghost, who is trapped in “Limbo.” But Jenna doesn’t know she’s dead, so she can’t remember details of the murder. Using her psychic abilities and the few clues she’s given, Ariel begins to uncover a plot that stretches far beyond the man who was jailed for the crime. It seems to reach into the wealthiest families in town, including that of Henry, her on-again, off-again boyfriend. Uncertainty, while concluding satisfactory, definitely leaves a lot of material for book three.
So, setting my content preferences aside, I am rating this one based solely on how much I enjoyed Abbey's style and story-telling ability.
- Eligere (Seranfyll, Book 2)
on April 22, 2012
Christina Daley’s second book in her Seranfyll series is well worth reading. I think I liked book one just a touch better, with its unexpected magic and the delightfully eccentric character of Domrey, but this is a solid second installment. Domrey and his adoptive sisters and brother, Rain, Snow and Coal, are all back. In fact, it is the cohesion of this peculiar family and the awesome values they stand for—like love, sacrifice and freedom—that makes this series truly refreshing.
As Domrey, who’s now using his magic powers in the service of the king of Yoan, is given an assignment on a tropical isle, the action moves across the globe. Ms. Daley gives the “Untamed Island” a great sense of place, making effective use of details like climate, animals, people groups and native culture. The book takes on the feel of a missionary story when Domrey, Rain and the others finally land in jungle village and help the doctors who live and work there. (Actually, quite a few times I was vaguely reminded of biblical parallels, just as in book one, but the book is not religious.) And while my attention did wander at times during the mundane moments in the village, there are exciting events scattered throughout. The last quarter of the book, after Rain is kidnapped, grows very adventurous indeed.
A word about characters. Oddly, I never really clicked with Rain, even though the narrator follows her around for the whole book, with the singular exception of chapter 32, when the “camera” follows Domrey and Coal on a journey that does not include Rain. I found her reactions, especially her moments of anger, a little forced. While she does discover some hidden talents by story’s end, and she makes some selfless choices, I never felt that she internalizes the plot effectively, never develops and grows like she did in book one. Domrey was easily my favorite character in book one. As the devoted, wise, generous patron of the family, he is still vastly important, but he takes more of a back seat in this one. This time I thought it was Coal who emerged strongly, with his complex personality. He’s coarse and quick-tempered, violent even, but his loyalty and tender heart make him vastly endearing.
The prose flows easily and is noticeably smoother than book one; however, it delves a little too deeply into slang and cliché. Modern words and phrases like “moron,” “cool,” “weird me out,” “missed it by a mile,” “beaten to a pulp,” etc. clash with the setting’s Old World feel. But the writing does contain moments that are absolutely lovely, such as when the old chief sings “with a voice beautified with age and dignity.” Or when “Light drops (of rain) tapped their tiny tunes on the roof.
Ms. Daley is a master of quirky detail. In book one, I loved that Domrey created his spells by knitting. And that Quill, the butler, was once a chicken and now runs around in circles when excited shouting “Ba-Clack!” I was glad to see Quill back. This time around, a new character, Phineas Klopp (Don’t you love that name?) draws mystical creatures on paper and brings them to life. And another magician creates black hole spells, where the air rips open and swallows bullets and fireballs and such before they can do any harm. Clever! Details like these give this series so much character.
In conclusion, I think Eligere, like Seranfyll, will appeal to anyone with a penchant for fantasy. I’d say it’s geared toward mid-teens, but the language is perfectly clean, and any content objections are so mild that I won’t even include them, so I’d put a 10+ recommendation on this one. And finally, I’m pleased to say the book’s final pages scream the promise of a third volume sometime in the not-too-distant future.
- St Viper's School For Super Villains. The Riotous Rocket Ship Robbery.
on Jan. 07, 2013
This book is funny, perfect for young readers, and truly unique. It's all about raising up villains, not heroes. But don't worry, it's written with a full measure of humor that keeps the tone lighthearted and silly.
St. Viper's is a secret boarding school set within the cone of a volcano where hopeful young villains study subjects such as "World Domination" and "Sinister Science." Together, the team of wicked teachers works to create "an elite team--a Syndicate of Supreme Evil, heh-heh--a force of unforgettable fear, ho-ho--a team of terrifying tricksters, har-har--to TAKE OVER THE WORLD." Yet in the midst of one such mad moment of instruction, Dr. Super Evil takes a call from his mother and quietly assures her he's wearing a clean vest and fresh pants.
Into this silly world of supreme evil, Demon (who bursts into flame when he's in a rage) and a few of his First Year friends end up on the wrong side of Senior super, Chill, and his assortment of terrible cronies. A bully with super powers is a fearsome thing, especially in a school that encourages villainous behavior. Along with worries about his own survival, Demon fears he'll never be able to live up to his father's reputation, and he's concerned that his friend Stretch--a girl--is showing him up. But in a display of supernatural plot twists and tongue-in-cheek humor, Ms. Donovan manages a satisfying ending in which "the best baddie wins."
Yes, this book has young readers cheering for the "wrong side," but it does so in such an ironic, witty way that I didn't see any harm in it, just a lot of good-natured fun. It flips the traditional super hero story on its head and leaves kids laughing all the way to the back cover. It's also clean (thanks, Ms. Donovan!), professionally edited, and appropriate for seven- to nine-year-old readers. I give it my wholehearted recommendation.
*I was given a complimentary copy of this book to review. (And I rarely give out five stars!)
- St Viper's School for Super Villains. The Big Bank Burglary.
on April 03, 2013
This is the second in Kim Donovan's St. Viper's series, and it's just as fun as the first one. The school hidden within the volcano is back, and the lessons to train young villains in World Domination continue. This time, the Syndicate of Supreme Evil is bent on control of all the world's banks. The Big Bank Robbery is to be a school project for the baddest of the scholars, and Demon wants in. The problem is, ever since Copycat transferred to St. Viper's, Demon can't seem to stop messing up. Demon's popularity has tanked, and even some of his friends abandon him for the new guy.
The Big Bank Burglary is chucked full of more kid-pleasing detail. A giant food fight involving snake flesh pizza and cowpat curry; super villains with names like Lady Lava, Flying Phantom, Monsieur Magnifique, and Doctor Dynamite; cool technie gadgets like like the EVIL (Electronic Villain's Intelligence Log), and enough high-flying action to satisfy every kids craving.
But St. Viper's isn't pure evil. Even though we're rooting for the bad guys (all in good fun, of course), at the end of the adventure, we celebrate some noble traits. Like the loyalty Deon's friends display. And when Demon's arch nemesis is in his hands, he lets him go to fight another day. In fact, "he was looking forward to lots of battles..." He found purpose, silly as it might be. And finally, in a hilarious twist, we find that even Dr. Super Villain finds he needs love and acceptance.
Funny, action-packed, well-edited, and containing absolutely no objectionable content, this one rates highly for the younger middle graders. Recommended for ages 7-9.