Book Review: Eve of the Exceptionals by Parker Sinclair

Eve of the Exceptionals
Parker Sinclair
Rawlings Books, January 2017
ISBN 978-0-9984053-0-8
Trade Paperback

It begins in a darkened room one night when Gem is fourteen. She and her Anima, Finn, are in the process of locating and stealing a magical object when the room bursts into light and they are accosted by Prince Ryzen, also fourteen. Gem resists her initial instinct which is to shoot the prince with an arrow. He, in turn, tells her how to escape while warning her that she cannot do so successfully with the Heart of Cyan, the magical gem she is trying to steal.

Fast forward four years. Gem is now a soldier in the Northern Guard and well on her way to becoming the best in her group. She hasn’t seen Ryzen since that fateful night, but still feels the warm, strong emotions that flowed through her when their eyes met. She’s often wondered whether he felt the same way, but has no way to determine whether that’s true.

Ryzen has harbored similar emotions about Gem, but no matter how hard he’s searched, often using magical methods, no trace of her has surfaced. Meanwhile, a dire threat is looming on the horizon. Dark and evil creatures from the Shadowlands are sweeping toward the kingdom and Ryzen must determine who the other is who must align with him to fully release the power of the Heart.

When Gem is assigned to guard Ryzen as the threat escalates, it sets in motion several things. She will learn who she really is and why she so strongly doubts the probability she’s the other one able to fully power the Heart. Both she and Ryzen will encounter a host of interesting and unusual creatures, many magical. They must fight their way to a place where another royal is being held captive by the most evil of forces and work with the witches who have long considered mortals as treacherous beings to win the day.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the positive side, the overall adventure is a good tale and the magic and magical creatures are well crafted. However, there are places where modern slang like ‘freak out’ and ‘How do we test the new powers this baby has,’ are used and mess with what I call the rule of internal consistency regarding fantasy. The entire story takes place in a medieval type world. If it happened in a back and forth between such a world and our present day (urban fantasy) these wouldn’t stick out.

There are also places where things aren’t explained completely, like how and why she was in the room to steal the gem at the beginning of the story and these pulled my attention away from the story as I wondered about them. Still, it’s an enjoyable tale in an interesting world.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, July 2017.

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Book Reviews: Whenever I’m With You by Lydia Sharp and Keep Me In Mind by Jaime Reed

Whenever I’m With You
Lydia Sharp
Scholastic Press, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-04749-3
Hardcover

Gabi’s natural grace is fascinating.  Poise, pragmatic manner and confidence rarely coexist in mere human beings; but this 17-year-old possesses all three.  Of course, she doesn’t realize that.  Her Alaskan acquaintances see only the novelty of a “rich Latina from L.A.”  and they don’t even have as much information ‘about’ her as the tabloids do.

Kai is not like that, but he isn’t living the typical teen-age life either.  When Gabi and her father moved in next door, Kai’s father had been gone for almost a year.  His departure turned Kai and his twin brother, Hunter, from full-time high-school students to home-schooled home-makers.  The boys cared for their younger siblings, their mother worked double shifts.

When Kai slips away to search for his father, he doesn’t tell anyone.  He’s been alone in the Alaskan wilderness, following his father’s footsteps for a couple of days when Gabi and Hunter figure out where he’s gone.  The two immediately realize the dire need to reach him ahead of an upcoming storm.  Even an experienced, outdoors-loving-Alaskan could not be prepared for this.

The dangerous expedition is but part of the plot.  Each twin has a secret and when secrets are shared it is as if someone pulled the missing piece of the almost-completed-jigsaw puzzle from a pocket and asks, “Were you looking for this?”  Fiercely frustrating; a remarkable relief.  Each person that participates in this quest has a solid strength inside.  The individual discovery and use is a pretty great thing to witness.

Aside: I have a particular fondness for the West-Virginian transplant.  Vicki easily embodied traits I recognize in the people from my home state; she amused and delighted me.   Special thanks to Ms. Sharp for that.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2017.

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Keep Me In Mind
Jaime Reed
Point, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-88381-8
Hardcover

The adage ‘opposites attract’ brings no comfort to Ellia as she tries to picture herself in a relationship with the “tearstained boy hovering over (her) bed…declaring his undying love and devotion”.  She’s come out of a coma with no recollection whatsoever of the accident that caused it or the preceding two years.  Her parents, along with some friends are familiar, if not fully known; but the oddly earnest Liam is a stranger.

Liam is a runner. An addict, actually; his entire personality changes if ever he is deprived of his daily run.  An excellent student, he works diligently for his grades and he writes ridiculously well.  Ellia firmly believes that humans should run in emergency situations only and nothing about school holds her attention, aside from the opportunity to people-watch in order to ponder and provide fashion critiques, solicited or not.

Logically, these two people do not belong together, but emotionally Liam is so confident and persuasive that Ellia is compelled to seriously consider the plausibility.  Understandably the most important thing in Liam’s world, this is really just a piece of the wicked jig-saw puzzle that is now Ellia’s life.  Her first priority is to figure out who she is and why; based on what she’s heard so far, she’s not particularly proud of the person she was.

I absolutely adore the way this author captures and conveys the sheer magnitude of emotions that teens experience.  More accurately, I admire the authenticity of her characters.  The surprisingly witty banter exchanges are straight from the hallways of any high-school and exist alongside the lyrical and somewhat haunting soliloquies throughout. I was immediately intrigued, then immersed and invested.  There were enough questions to be answered that the story-line slid smoothly along, keeping me engaged from the first page to the very last word.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2016.

Book Review: The Singer from Memphis by Gary Corby

the-singer-from-memphisThe Singer From Memphis
An Athenian Mystery #6
Gary Corby
Soho Crime, May 2016
ISBN:978-1-61695-668-4
Hardcover

Nicolaos is an Athenian private investigator/spy who reports to Pericles. Yes, that Pericles. When Nico is approached by the historian/author Herodotus–yes, that Herodotus–who wants to hire him as a guide in Egypt as he does book research, Pericles instructs him to take the job. All sorts of complications occur. Assassins wish Nico dead. Or are they after Nico’s wife, Diotima? Or any other of the many blend of historical and fictional characters in this book? Apparently everyone is after the crook and flail, symbols of the Egyptian ruling pharohs, and the search is on for the last of the line. Wars have been fought for less, and there’s a power struggle going on now between Egypt and Persia.

The action takes place in 456 B.C., and while some of the action really happened to these characters, the author has chosen to write the story in a comedic manner. I must say he’s succeeded. History and fiction blends beautifully. The characters are well and colorfully depicted, the setting used seem very real, the dialogue is snappy and often funny. Corby does let us know the cross-bow had not yet been invented, although it figures in this story. I guess it needed to start somewhere, at some time.

The novel is enjoyable and well-worth a reader’s time. The Singer From Memphis is, I believe, the sixth entry in this series, which shows no signs of slowing down.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Review: Woven by Michael Jensen and David Powers King

wovenWoven
Michael Jensen and David Powers King
Scholastic Press, February 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-68572-6
Hardcover

When I was very young, I was in 4-H.  There were projects.  Mine: sewing.  Always, sewing.  Much to my chagrin, we did not live on a farm.  Sewing was difficult.  And frustrating.  At first.  But, I learned.  I realized this brand-new way to create and express myself.  Also, a pretty handy skill.  Like magic!

Imagine my delight (many years later) upon discovering Woven, the rare, needle-in-a-haystack book to spotlight sewing as actual magic.  Brilliant concept.  Mr. Jensen and Mr. King weave a wondrous yarn, spinning back to a time when royalty and peasants were distinctly different and most certainly did not mingle.  On the outside, each class is separate and easily identified.  Underneath, unseen…some souls are stitched together; hierarchy be damned.

It’s easy to envision everyone’s enchantment and immediate empathy. The authors unravel overt appearances; the true characters of the noble peasant boy and the prim, proper, petulant princess are displayed.  Your heart may feel a tug here and there.  Unapologetically honest and open-minded, Nels is as refreshing as an arctic breeze on a sticky-hot summer day when his bafflement turns to frustration as he hears prejudices against the traveling, gypsy-esque Vagas.  He flatly informs everyone: “You can’t blame a whole people for one crime.”

And.

(Yes, there’s more.)

Woven is a ghost story.    Also, an adventure with wonderful wrestling matches, smashing swords, and an epic quest to free two kingdoms, right countless wrongs and save their own lives.  I found Woven to be happy and hopeful without being determinedly cheerful, sickening sweet.  It hooked me and carried me along, weaving me right into the fabric of this fantastic and fanciful tale.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2016.

Book Review: Return of the Continuums by Jennifer Brody

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Title: Return of the Continuums
Series: The Continuum Trilogy #2

Author: Jennifer Brody
Publisher: Turner Publishing
Release Date: November 1 , 2016
Genre:  Science Fiction, Young Adult

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Return of the ContinuumsReturn of the Continuums
The Continuum Trilogy #2
Jennifer Brody
Turner Publishing, November 2016
ISBN 978-1-68162-258-3
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Reaching the surface was just the beginning.

As Myra and her friends set out to find the First Continuum, they must navigate a hostile landscape and even more hostile inhabitants of other continuums with their own ideas about the future of the human race. In the pulse-quickening sequel to “The 13th Continuum,” the young heroes must make an unlikely ally if they are to survive long enough to reach their destination and learn the secret behind humanity’s destruction and the hope for its survival.

As Myra’s and Aero’s story continues, following last spring’s The 13th Continuum, I struggled a bit to reconnect with these two, perhaps because there’s a lot of information in the first half of the book for the characters and the reader. I found my attention being drawn in too many directions for a while and, yet, I still enjoyed this sequel despite the early distractions. Myra and Aero have separate storylines in the first half and that probably added to my disconnect.

Still, Ms. Brody has crafted an interesting scenario with the multiple continuums and their very isolation has led to quite diverse societies and outlooks. Learning how the various continuums were developed and how the original inhabitants of each were chosen added much to my understanding of this world far in the future and, in the second half of the book, I got caught up in the quest to reach the first continuum.

As with the first book, questions are left unanswered, giving us good reason to look forward to the third volume of the trilogy. The United Continuums will be coming in July 2017 and it’s already on my wishlist.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2016.

Also in the series:

The 13th Continuum

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About the Author

Jennifer BrodyJennifer Brody’s debut novel The 13th Continuum sold to Turner Publishing in a 3-book deal and is being packaged into a feature film. The book is the first in a trilogy and came out in Spring 2016. She is a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. She lives and writes in LA.

After studying film and graduating from Harvard University, she began her career in feature film development. Highlights include working for Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes and New Line Cinema, most notably on “The Lord of the Rings” films and “The Golden Compass”. In 2008, she produced the feature film “Make It Happen” for The Weinstein Company. Her recipes and articles have appeared in xoJane, Fox News, Parade Magazine, Whole Life Times, and Meatless Monday, and many other publications.

She is an alumni of the Sirenland Writers Conference, where she studied with Meg Wolitzer, and the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop, where she studied with Victor LaValle. She completed a 3-week residency at The Lemon Tree House and was accepted for a residency in Spring 2016 at the Helen R. Whiteley Center, run by the University of Washington.

She founded and runs BookPod, a social media platform for authors with 400 members. She’s also a mentor for the Young Storytellers Foundation. In Spring 2015, her mentee’s script was picked out of over 900 scripts for the Glee Big Show, where it was performed by the cast of the hit Fox TV show, and in Fall of 2015, her mentee’s script was chosen for the Biggest Show, where it was performed by Jack Black and Leslie Mann.

AUTHOR LINKS:

Website: http://jenniferbrody.com/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14248804.Jennifer_Brody

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jenniferbrody

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jenniferbrodywriter

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Book Reviews: Sail Into Treachery by Gary R. Bush and The Musubi Murder by Frankie Bow

sail-into-treacherySail Into Treachery
A Jamie Sharpe Adventure
Gary R. Bush
40 Press, March 2016
ISBN: 978-1-938473-16-6
Trade Paperback

Although this debut novel is aimed at a young adult readership, nothing in its style, subject matter or plot in any way restricts its audience. The story is presented in the rousing style of a Patrick O’Brien, and draws nicely on the author’s meticulous research in the post-revolutionary years when America was a young nation, just coming into its own as a maritime power. The novel calls to mind Arthur Ransome’s fine boating series about the Swallows and the Amazons, set in England in the early Twentieth Century.

Jamie Sharpe is all of fifteen growing up at the turn of the Nineteenth Century. He’s already been to sea with his merchant father and experienced the terrors of sea battles. Now, at the behest of his far-seeing family, he’s finishing an advanced high school course of study that blends cultural studies with several languages and the practical skills that any young man growing up in the rough-and-tumble mercantile world of the commercial harbor of Boston will find necessary.

His father is away in the China Trade and financial troubles loom over the Sharpe family. This sets young Jamie on an exciting if terrifying adventure in which he faces murder, kidnapping, slavery, storms at sea, and more than one kind of death. The dialogue enhances the rollicking sense of adventure though and Jamie and his friends are able to survive through wit, intelligence and force of arms. I recommend this novel as a fast, enjoyable adventure, likely to be the first of an enduring series.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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the-musubi-murderThe Musubi Murder
A Professor Molly Mystery #1
Frankie Bow
Five Star, July 2015
ISBN 978-1-4328-3074-8
Hardcover

A classically framed and realized light murder mystery. It does offer a clever mis-direction. The setting, Hawaii, is well-limned and readers will delight in many of the idiosyncrasies of behavior, language and descriptions of the settings.

The primary action location, a small business college on the Big Island, where our accused protagonist teaches, is apparently struggling at all levels, from its administration right down to an absence of adequate janitorial services. The private college is beset by a lack of funding which leads to some compromising of academic standards and practices. Against this setting, enhanced by the usual wrangling and maneuvering of tenured and untenured faculty, financial supporters are naturally carefully handled and even cash contributions from thugs like Johnny Tanaka are welcomed.

Of course there is a murder, false accusations, the mystery of a purloined skull, an itinerant unclaimed suitcase, romance and some sparkling dialogue. The pace of the unraveling is a little ragged at times, but for readers looking for a light murder mystery, here’s an intriguing entry.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty

The Cracks in the KingdomThe Cracks in the Kingdom
The Colors of Madeleine #2
Jaclyn Moriarty
Arthur A. Levine Books, March 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-39738-4
Hardcover

First an admission, I bought A Corner of White, book one  in this series when it came out in 2013, started reading it and lost interest about 50 pages in. As a result, I wondered how I’d find the middle book. I was surprised to discover it grabbed me pretty fast and I read straight through.

Imagine two worlds in parallel dimensions that once allowed travel between them via invisible cracks. Only the very adventurous took advantage of them and when the plague from our world seeped through to Cello, killing many, their monarchy established the WSU, a powerful agency charged with finding and sealing all the cracks and executing anyone trying to access them.

Princess Po is a teen and the only member of the royal family not captured by factions intent upon bringing down the monarchy. She’s pretty certain her parents, older sister and younger brother have been exiled to the World (our planet), but has no idea how to find or rescue them. She’s got her hands full just keeping up the illusion that all four family members are busy elsewhere while she keeps the daily affairs of state going. Po knows she’s in over her head, so she creates what she calls the Royal Youth Alliance as a cover for a small group of teens who might be able to figure out where her family members are and how to get them back.

Chief among the members is Elliot who discovered a crack in the first book (inside an ancient TV on a rock behind his school) that is connected to a parking meter in our world near the home of Madeleine Tully, another teen who is somewhat lost since her dad left. Her link to Elliot was forged when he was able to give her a string of beads that cured her mother’s near fatal illness in the first book. The fact that intense emotional energy allowed them to connect is literally all they have to work with as they try to figure out where the missing royals are and how to retrieve them.

Their mission is complicated by the fact that most who have moved to our world soon lose all memories of Cello, who they are, where they lived, what they did, who family members are. Add in that the four members of the royal family are widely dispersed and you have a giant puzzle for Po, Elliot, Madeleine and the other members of the Royal Youth Alliance to solve.

The challenge is further complicated by Elliot’s missing father, gone for more than a year, who has supposedly been located by two government agents, but said agents keep coming up with barely plausible reasons why Dad hasn’t been freed and returned home. Then, there’s the Monty Python-like weather in Cello, affected by unpredictable magic that can change summer into winter and back in a heartbeat, not to mention the wildly differing customs in various provinces that the teen rescue team must deal with as they travel around the kingdom, seeking clues to where the cracks are and how to open them enough so they can retrieve the missing family members. There are twists and surprises galore near the end of the story, setting up plenty of anticipation for the final installment.

I really like this book and don’t feel I lost much by not finishing book one. Princess Po isn’t particularly likable, but given her desperation, that’s almost forgivable. Elliot is a great guy who is conflicted about who he likes, Madeleine or one of the members of the Royal Youth Alliance. There’s plenty of action and mystery in this story and I’m eager to read the final installment.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, August 2016.